A couple of weeks ago, Trevin Wax produced an interesting take here on the potential implications of kids' lack of exposure to the outdoors. Wax’s piece resonated with me because it heavily aligned with a key premise advanced in my forthcoming book, Theology from the Spring. The premise? Simply that we need more broken fly rods today. Now, to the fisherman, such counsel might sound odious. To the non-fishing parent, it’s perhaps down-right confusing. So please allow me to back up for a moment to properly frame the context of where I’m couching said counsel.
Imagine the scene: A young dad wakes his groggy six-year old from the warmth of their cabin. For the lad, the chilly air tries to chase him back into bed, as he languidly throws on layers of clothes. For dad, the stream beckons the opportunity to hook another member of the family, just as it captivated him decades earlier. Dad shuffles about the dawn with excitement, dressing the fishing rods before arrival to strike while fish are hot. Son, while interested in the prospects swirling within the spring, saunters out into the crisp Ozark mountain air with faculties that are not yet fully-engaged. And just as dad is tying up the sure-catch fly on the boy’s rod, the fishing equivalent of the abomination that causes desolation occurs: the boy steps on dad’s new $220 fly rod, breaking it in half.
The Dad’s face turns ashen gray at the sight. His heart sinks, conceding his best-laid plans for the day have been snapped. His prized possession, the tool of the fly fishing craftsman, has been rendered useless. It was the very grace of God that slowed time, providing dad with options of how to respond that were contrary to his boiling blood. How would he react? Would he teach the kid a lesson for his carelessness, by invoking the well-known Proverb, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son,” and applying the rod on his bottom to save the boy from future destruction? The dad weighed this option as it snarled within his head. But as the father peered down at the boy’s drooping face, grappling with the urge of fleshly anger that instigates vengeance when we are wronged, something caused him to respond contrarily… at that moment he realized that in the bigger picture, a gospel-centered application of that Proverb actually meant turning it on its head. He needed to hate the fly rod – that is, be willing to devote it to destruction— in order to spare the boy. In fact, this conclusion speaks to a larger truth that there needs to be more broken rods if we are to train up our children unto Godly wisdom.
By now, if you haven't figured it out, I owe you this confession for reading this far: I am that dad. But with summer imminently upon us, the question incumbent on all of us parents is this: "What does this vignette calling for more broken rods mean?" In short, it means the cost of a fly rod is a pittance compared to the value of time—time spent discipling our kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The general precept is that it is better to have broken rods in order to have opportunities outdoors with our kids, than to keep the rods safe by remaining inside. But more specifically, here are three reasons why we need more broken fly rods.
1. Broken Rods Mean Opportunities for Dealing with Our Broken Condition
In order to have a broken rod, we must live in a broken world. The mere occurrence of a broken rod means we’re at least out on the banks of the stream taking in glimpses of veiled beauty in a paradise gone wrong. The stream provides vistas of not only our perfect beginnings in the garden, but also points to the future when all will be restored. The water currents enticing father and son today, call to mind our future hope of the river of life that will flow from the throne of the exalted Creator (Rev. 22:1-2). An immediate contrast can be seen at the stream as a sort of typology of the broken us vs. the future restored setting we’ll inhabit as restored people, just by getting out to where a rod can be broken.
But from a non-eschatological level, broken rods mean we must deal with our broken flesh, and the sin that flows forth from our sinful hearts. Whether your rod is a Winston fly rod, a new Callaway driver, or new Air Jordan’s muddied up in the creek: exposing our most coveted toys to our kids provides us with opportunities to place potential idols in their rightful place. I don’t think we can adequately place a value on the permanent “sticking” of a gospel lesson in the mind of a child. In a way, broken rods avail a unique chance to obey Christ: to pluck out eyes those eyes that cause us to sin (Matt. 5:29), or not causing little ones to stumble by reinforcing consumer goods as “gotta have it” idols (Matt. 18:6).
But not only does unsheathing our rods afford us the chance to put something off, it also opens the doors to put something on. Specifically, it allows us to practice those fruits of the Spirit we should be developing: grace, patience, forgiveness—all virtues that I should have if I am in Christ. My son gets to see first-hand, in real-life how his dad values him above a prized fly rod. I get to mortify my flesh before his eyes in real time, proving that the “stuff” I value is mere means to the end of a father pouring into a son. And my son (hopefully) gets to see patience flow forth in the inevitable ways of his line getting tangled. But just as important, my son gets to see me lose my temper and not be the patient dad I ought to be when I have to untangle his line for the 20th time. While such actual failures expose my broken human condition, it also drives me to repent and ask for my son’s forgiveness, modeling a behavior I hope he one day follows: that the leaders of the home need also be the foremost repenters.
2. Broken Rods Mean Developing Healthy Lifestyles
Breaking a rod means, in all likelihood, that a kid is not laying idle on the couch. As creatures tasked with the special privilege of subduing and ordering the created world as God’s vice-regents, our mandate necessarily requires we get outdoors to interact with the rest of creation. But our task of stewardship and upkeep of the environment is made all the more difficult if we are not up-keeping our own physical health. Here are just a few of the litany of health benefits ascribed to being outdoors:
- Youth with a BMI categorized as obese have notably lower rates of participation in the outdoors.
- 90% of kids who spend time outdoors indicated that being in nature helped relieve stress.
- Children who are exposed to the outdoors have higher levels of vitamin D, which strengthens their bones and immune systems.
- Kids who play regularly in natural environments have more advanced motor skills, balance, and coordination.
- Sick people recover faster, and require fewer painkillers, when given greater exposure to nature.
- Studies show that camping, hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities lead to better mental health, increased self-esteem, and positive character development.
- Outdoor activity has shown in studies to allow the brain to recharge at greater capacity, producing better results academically, socially, and cognitively.
Further data is abundant, but superfluous at this point, as the case is clear that we, stewards of the outdoors, thrive by spending time outdoors. Even if that means breaking rods…
3. Broken Rods Mean Deferring to God and Dying to Self
One of the beauties of observing a broken rod is that something has occurred beyond our control. While obviously in the proper context, there is much to be said about providing a controlled, routine, safe environment for our kids. But the paradox is that where we often miss the mark is the subtle ways we try to wrestle control of our circumstances away from the Creator, stifling our ability to respond with obedience. While the outcome might be safe, controlled, or staged to produce a photo op that exalts our kids’ self-esteem, more often than not, scripted moments like this are buoyed by a flawed motive that subordinates God’s praise to the praise of self. But we aren’t God, and a day is coming when our child won’t be able to dictate their circumstances. Will they praise God in that moment?
This is why I love the outdoors: it is the ultimate battlefield where I can die to self and defer to the God of the universe. The same God who binds and sustains every one of the billions of water molecule filling the stream, Who directs it flow with harmony, is the same sovereign Being that can cause/prevent that next fish to bite. The same one Who can re-route that deer from/to passing our way. The same being who alone causes the rain to fall, the waters to rise, and the spring to flow. Getting off the couch, and into the raw, untamed domain of nature, strips us of our ability to coerce certain outcomes, freeing us to be spectators who can simply live in the moment. The unpredictability of the outdoors reminds us of the fact we strangely are too prone to forget: we are not God.
One of the biggest draws of our electronic devices is how they enable us to construct a faux sovereignty. Gadgets enable us to control the results. If we don’t like the outcome of a video game, we hit reset. If we are annoyed by the contents of a particular text message, we simply ignore, or even worse, delete it, functionally denying the existence of God’s image bearer who sent it. And if we become dismayed at our lack of attention, we simply contrive a social media post, controlling a less than realistic image of self projected to others.
But the outdoors on the other hand… when we get outside with the opportunity to create a broken rod, we find an environment that is not at all tame. We can’t control the wilderness at hand. And this is good for our kids to see. It’s good to eliminate our God-complex right before their eyes. It’s good we can’t control the minutia of our environment, which then drives us to a genuine worship of the true God who providentially guides every atom in the cosmos. A broken rod points us away from self and to that Being.
We need more broken rods. While I don’t enjoy having my rod broken (has happened more than once), the alternative is much, much worse. I could protect my rod by leaving my son at home, effectively sparing the fly rod and hating the boy. But my duty as steward over both my son and the stream will not permit any such inversion of our divine calling. A calling that may result in hating my prized fly rod in order to spare my child a life of not seeing His Creator’s reflection, in the theology from the spring.